Permanent placement in foster care: how to provide support in ambiguous frameworks

Marco Chistolini, Researcher, Psychotherapist and trainer, Italy 

Giorgia Salvadori, Researcher, Fondazione Paideia onlus, Italy 

In the Italian legislative system foster care is regulated as a temporary intervention: the expected maximum length is 24 months, that can be extended when necessary. Practice is different: 60% of foster care placements are longer than 2 years and children could stay in a foster family until they are 18 or more. Permanent placement in foster care (it is called “sine die”) is therefore a relevant phenomenon, that cannot be ignored.  Children living in such a situation have to face a complexity of factors, for many reasons – Social workers and justice system do not consider permanent placement as an option: practice leads them to renew the time frame defined by law or to use a vagueness length of placement  – Consequently, children feel the presence/absence of the birth family: as highlighted by Pauline Boss (1999; 2006), the lack of attention to this process contribute to a condition of “Ambiguous Loss” – The vagueness of length has consequences on the relationship between children and foster parents: the foster care time is uncertain, and this prevents the development a sense of belonging to the new family. The abstract aims to reflect about how to support these specific situations. For these specific cases, we propose to develop a process that includes children, foster families and birth family together, in order to guarantee the best conditions for a safe growing up of children. Guidelines can be summarized in these three points: – Reduction of uncertainty – Awareness of the loss (logic of continuity and prevention of traumatic breakdown) – Building of a good sense of belonging  This kind of programme can be developed in individual or group setting.  The goal of the presentation is to explore assumptions, strengths/weakness points and outcomes of this approach.

Key-words: Ambiguous Loss, logic of continuity, support intervention, prevention

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